National Post

Days after explosions, kids search for parents


- Aaron ross

DAKAR • Callers seeking the parents of lost children have been regularly dialing in to radio and television programs since a series of explosions levelled much of Equatorial Guinea’s largest city and sent thousands fleeing for the countrysid­e.

Three days on, residents of Bata are still coming to grips with the full scale of a tragedy that has killed at least 105 people and injured more than 600 others.

Drone footage aired on state television showed block after block of public housing in the coastal city either completely destroyed or close to it, the remnants of their roofs and walls strewn across the neighbourh­ood’s dirt roads.

“There are many children without parents,” said a teacher in Bata, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the authoritie­s in the tightly controlled central African country. “In the long (term) what do we do with those children?”

The reclusive government blamed the explosions on fires set by farmers living near the military base and the negligent handling of dynamite stocks by the military unit guarding them.

It has decreed three days of national mourning from Wednesday, declared Bata a catastroph­e zone, unblocked US$18.19 million for the response and appealed for internatio­nal aid.

Firefighte­rs continued to comb the rubble on Wednesday for bodies as onlookers wept, state television showed. The authoritie­s appealed for donations of blood and basic goods.

On Wednesday, a five-year old girl was pulled from the rubble of a house in the military camp where the blast occurred, Equato-guinean media Ahoraeg said.

Officials have been forced to turn to refrigerat­ed containers to store bodies, said the teacher and Alfredo Okenve, a human-rights activist who lives in exile in Europe.

Okenve said his informatio­n indicated the number of deaths was between 150 and 200, significan­tly higher than the government’s toll of 105.

Virgilio Seriche, at the informatio­n ministry, denied that bodies were being stored in containers and said authoritie­s were providing up-to-date numbers of confirmed deaths.

Bata residents are traumatize­d from the explosions, which lasted for hours on Sunday, and fearful of additional blasts.

The first explosion “was so big that all of us and the people around us were shouting: ‘This is a bomb, this is a bomb!’” said the teacher.

“People were crying, shouting, running, trying to stay somewhere, but it was panic. We started to see police cars and firemen and people bleeding.”

The health ministry said it was deploying psychiatri­sts and psychologi­sts.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that the World Health Organizati­on and UNICEF had mobilized teams to control infection and provide logistical support. Spain has sent a first batch of emergency aid.

 ?? ASONGA TV / VIA REUTERS TV ?? Drone footage shows the aftermath of a series of deadly explosions in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, on Sunday.
ASONGA TV / VIA REUTERS TV Drone footage shows the aftermath of a series of deadly explosions in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, on Sunday.

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